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Friday, May 23, 2008



Before my recent retirement after a career of almost 40 years, I had the unique opportunity to work in the technology areas for a major oil company, an international financial operation, and one of the world’s largest international banks. As a result, although not an expert in either exploration or production of crude oil and its impact on financial and consumer markets, I did have access to information that most American consumers did not. This was not secret data, nor was it proprietary information. It was simply a case of facts the media was not interested in reporting, and our politicians felt were not germane to their own agendas. Let me start with a few simple facts.

At the time of the 1972 OPEC oil embargo, the domestic production of crude oil in America peaked at about 10 million barrels per day. This domestic production accounted for almost 2/3’s of our total needs, resulting in about 1/3 of our needed crude to be imported. The chilling effect of the embargo on our economy, and ability to provide for the national defense, resulted in our political leadership pledging that the government would work to allow America to achieve energy independence in 10 years. What have we achieved so far?

By 1980, domestic crude production had fallen to 8,572 million barrels per day, while our oil usage climbed to 16,058 million barrels per day. Imports had risen to 7,486 million barrels per day, or 46% of our needs. In 2005, our total crude oil requirements were 20,802 million barrels per day, while domestic production had fallen to 7,486 million barrels per day. The 15,624 million barrels per day necessary to keep America and her economy moving were met by imports, which now account for 75% of our needs. So much for the pledge to make America independent of unreliable foreign sources. What went wrong?

Of natural crude, we have large reserves off the coasts of California and Florida. However, no drilling in these areas has been permitted by law since the late 1960’s. China, however, by using agreements with Cuba to drill in this area, will begin doing so shortly.

America also has additional reserves in the Gulf areas, from Florida to Texas. However, no drilling is permitted in most of these areas. Mexico, however, has no such restrictions.

In Alaska, both onshore and offshore, we have large areas of proven reserves, which are not allowed to be developed by law. Canada has no laws prohibiting such development.

In the mountain Western states, large amounts of oil are available in the shale rock formations. However, EPA regulations prohibit their development.

In the far West, vast areas of tar sands remain undeveloped due to environmental restrictions. As with the geographic areas noted above, most of the land is owned or controlled by the federal government. Canadian use of tar sands is a major source of their oil exports.

The conversion of coal to oil, a technology available for over 100 years, remains another untapped resource, due to legislative and environmental restrictions.

The bottom line is that America could have become energy independent with regard to crude oil by the mid 1980’s. In the area of electricity, the addition of more coal fired generating plants, nuclear power plants, and additional hydro electric plants could have made the need for gas and oil fueled electrical plants unnecessary by 1990. That would have freed up more crude for other purposes, and reduced our overall consumption of oil. In addition, our electrical generation capacity would substantially exceed our present needs, rather than the sporadic shortages we now experience.

Some analysts have estimated that if all of these options had been initiated in the immediate aftermath of the OPEC embargo, crude oil today would have a domestic price of 40-45 dollars per barrel, with secure supplies, and uninfluenced by foreign costs or international speculators. Why didn’t this happen?

It is popular to blame the oil companies, oil cartels, or greedy speculators. But in truth, we are in a bed of our own making. It is not the usual suspects who have passed laws based on bad science, radical environmental lobbies, self interest, political agendas or ignorance of technological advances and free enterprise economics. It is the result of our own government, mainly through the ineptness of Congress. At the risk of sounding glib, the following old saw comes to mind. If the opposite of Pro is Con, what is the opposite of Progress?

One need only look at the energy bill recently passed to confirm my opinion. While this 86.3 billion dollar legislation (including 3.8 billion in pork that has nothing to do with energy) does tell the auto makers how to build cars, tell us that we can’t buy incandescent light bulbs after 2012, and demand that we continue to use 1.25 gallons of gasoline to produce 1 gallon of ethanol (subsidized by us of course); it does not result in one new gallon of gasoline, or one watt of new electricity.

So who is to blame for the “new” energy crisis we face? Look no further than Washington DC. For 34 years, through Republican and Democratic controlled Congresses and Presidencies, they have done all that they can to create what we, the consumer, must now face. And I see no hope that they will do anything to correct the situation they have created. The resources are there, the technologies are proven, and the self corrective economic system is in place. We need only a government that is both accountable and responsive.

Thursday, May 01, 2008



To see him in a normal social setting, the casual observer would note only the college student, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans. Of average height, you might notice that he had an above average muscular build, but nothing to make him stand out in a crowd. The very slight limp, as he crossed the room, would be hard for most people to detect.

The other young man is certainly notable for his height. Standing almost 6’5”, with the build of an athlete, he does stand out. But his youthful face and business casual attire would peg him as a young man just entering the business world.

These two young men, both well known to me, have several things in common. Both are Eagle Scouts from my very small central Iowa BSA district. Both are the same age as my youngest son, and served with him as summer camp counselors at our local Scout reservation. One is currently a college student, while the other graduated with my son from Iowa State. They have one more thing in common. Both are decorated combat veterans, and survivors of wounds received in Iraq.

The college student is Sgt Mike F. Mike joined the Army after attending our local Junior College. He was sent to Iraq with a Bradley Fighting Vehicle Unit. His leadership earned him an early trip back to the US, not to be excused from serving in combat, but to train with the first Stryker Brigade before they were deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq for the second time, he led a squad into a building to clear it of terrorists. Entering one room, he was bayoneted from behind by a terrorist hiding in a closet. After disposing of his attacker, Sgt. Mike returned to his Stryker, and put his Scout experience to work. He grabbed a roll of duck tape, wound it around his bleeding leg, and rejoined his squad. He was not seen by any medical personnel until his entire unit returned to their forward operating base. He was stitched up and kept overnight for observation, returning to his unit the next day. He completed his entire 15 month tour without any further interruption. He told me the limp can be fixed with some tendon repair, but that can wait until he finishes his graduate degree.

The tall young man joined the Army ROTC while in college. After graduation, he went through his initial training, and was accepted into Army Ranger training. Second Lieutenant Mike S. was sent to Iraq with his Rangers, and saw his first combat two days after arrival. In the first month, he learned about one disadvantage to his height. He was struck in the head by a snipers bullet. It pierced his helmet, and he describes how “it kind of rattled around doing some minor damage to my forehead, ear and hairline.” Several months later, while on patrol, he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. The warhead missed him, and so did not detonate. However, the fin left a deep gash in his thigh. He finished his patrol before seeking medical care and multiple stitches. Asked how he completed his mission with the pain from his leg, Lt. Mike said he didn’t really notice the pain. He was too busy looking for the second RPG that usually followed an initial attack. While Mike survived both wounds, neither the sniper nor the RPG shooter did. He has a month off, before returning to duty. He was offered a position with Army intelligence, but instead applied for Special Forces training. He is excited that he was accepted for this assignment.

So, two young Iowa sons, exceptional not in appearance, nor notable for athletic competition, or business success. Average in most respects, they would not be noticeable while in a mall, at church, or having a cold tall one with friends. They are among the thousands of quiet heroes that walk among us every day. Yet most of us do not know them, nor do we thank them. Two young men who do the things that most of us can’t do, or won’t do. Yet, everything we are able to do so freely are the result of the quiet courage of men and women like them.

I look at these young men , and the twenty-two other former Scouts and adult leaders (my Air Force son among them) serving in the military from my small District here in flyover country, and I am in awe of the character they show every day. We are indeed blessed that we have heroes that walk among us. Unknown, unrecognized, but there when we need them the most.

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